Faith in God vs. the Problem of Suffering/Evil (part 1)

It’s amazing how many people in our modern day have turned away from the faith because of the problem of suffering.

  1. We ignore evil when it doesn’t hit us in the face.
  2. We are surprised by evil when it does. We are shocked by death and suffering again and again even though life spans are longer and people live, generally speaking, more comfortably than ever before.
  3. As a result, we react in immature and dangerous ways.

The Western World hasn’t been able to cope with evil within its modernistic beliefs. Postmodernity doesn’t help as it flows into deconstructive language and ultimately turns nihilistic.

So when it comes to the problem of evil or suffering, we need to acknowledge 3 things:

  1. There are no easy answers. If we think we’ve completely solved it, that shows we haven’t understood it.
  2. The line between good and evil doesn’t lie between “us” and “them.” It runs down through each of us. That is not to say that all people are equally good or bad but that we all are capable of monstrous evil under the right circumstances.
  3. Despite the evil acts that people commit against each other, no human was responsible for tsunamis or earthquakes.

What help can we find in the Bible?

I’ll write more on this topic next week.

Sin is a State of the Heart

Sin is not something which began on earth. Before the Fall there had been a previous fall. Satan was a perfect, bright, angelic being dwelling in the heavens and he fell before the Fall.

It is fallacious to think of sin only in terms of actions. Sin is essentially a disposition. It is a state of the heart. Sin is ultimately self-worship and the terrifying thing is that it rears its ugly head even as we try to worship or pray to God (see Matthew 5). So even sometimes people may be persuading themselves that they are worshiping God, but actually worshiping themselves and doing nothing more.

Why Should We Have to Pray to a Loving and Merciful God?

Prayer is a mystery and an effort.  So many petitions seem to remain unanswered.  The most disheartening barrier lies in the moral difficulty: Why should we have to pray to a loving and merciful God?  A parent doesn’t wait until a child is lying on a bed of pain crying out for his sympathy and healing.  When our poor human hearts love, they do not wait to be begged that they may supply the needs of those they love.  Why should prayer on our part be the indispensable condition of the working of God?

First, prayer makes us more deeply conscious of God.  In the rush and stress of life we tend to lose a sure and clear consciousness of God.  In the busy world, the mind is filled every morning with all of the news to the ends of the world.  If we will not sometimes think of God, He will merely become a name to us.  It is in prayer that we have the sure consciousness of God.

Second, prayer helps us to see through God’s eyes.  It’s sad how most evils go unnoticed, wrongs unremedied, poor unpitied and unhelped, miseries uncomforted, not because we don’t know, but because we do not sympathize.  We haven’t looked at the world through God’s eyes.

Third, prayer surrenders us to the energy of God.  The highest attitude in prayer is not desire or praise.  It is surrender.  In surrender we open our whole being to God as a flower opens itself to the sun, and we are filled up to our measure with His divine energy.

God has chosen people as a means of His power and grace in the world.  And if people will not work the works of God, the works of God remain undone.  We limit God by our prayerlessness.  Because we are not surrendered to God in prayer, the might of His energy does not pass into us.

Easter is the Beginning of God’s New Creation

Easter is the beginning of God’s new creation. We don’t have to wait. It has already burst in. And the whole point of John 20-21 is that we who believe in Jesus are to become, in the power of His Spirit, not only beneficiaries of that new creation but also agents.

I Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

The resurrection means that what you do in the present matters into God’s future.

God’s recreation of His wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of His Spirit, meaning that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present world is not wasted. It will last and be enhanced in God’s new world.

I have no idea what this means precisely. I do not know how the painting an artist painst today will find a place on God’s new world. I don’t know how planting a tree today will relate to the wonderful trees that will be in God’s recreated world. I don’t know how work for justice for the poor will reappear in that new world. But I know that God’s new world of justice and joy, of hope for the whole earth, was launched when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning; I know He calls us to live in Him and by the power of His Spirit, to be new creation people here and now, giving birth to signs and symbols of the Kingdom on earth as in heaven.

What is the Second Coming of Christ all about?

For many devout believers, the second coming is the point when the world as we know it is done away with and Jesus snatches his own people up to heaven, to live there with him forever as it’s in some far away celestial zip code.

If that’s what’s going to happen, why would we plant a tree? Why oil the wheels of a car that’s about to drive off a cliff?

Is that what the second coming is all about?

In Ephesians 1:10, Paul declares that God’s purpose for all eternity was to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth. Colossians 1:15-20 declares that all things were created in, through, and for Christ, and that all things are reconciled in, through, and for Christ. Neither Ephesians or Colossians gives any support for the idea that a major part of the created order is destined to be thrown in the trash while redeemed humans, whether in or out of the body, live forever in some other place. Indeed, it’s in Colossians 3 that we get a hint of a different way looking at what is commonly called the second coming. Paul says, “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God; when Christ who is our life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.”

Think about the meaning of “appears” for a minute. When we talk of Jesus coming, we make it sound as though he is presently far away. But “appears” is different. As we find in many New Testament passages, Jesus is not far away; he is in heaven. And heaven is not a place in the sky, but rather God’s dimension of what we think of us ordinary reality. The failure to grasp this leaves many Christians puzzled about how to put together the biblical picture of Jesus’ return. The point is that Jesus is presently in God’s dimension, that is, heaven; however, heaven is not a place in our space-time continuum, but a different sphere of reality that overlaps and interlocks with our sphere in numerous though mysterious ways. It is as though there were a great invisible curtain hanging across a room, disguising another space that can be integrated with our space; one day the curtain will be pulled back, the two spaces or spheres will be joined forever, and Jesus himself will be the central figure.

“When Christ shall come,” we sing in the hymn, “with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.” We ought to sing, “When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and heal this world, what joy shall fill my heart.” In the New Testament, the second coming is not the point at which Jesus snatches people up, away from the earth, to live with him forever somewhere else, but the point at which he returns to reign not only in heaven but upon the earth.